Category Archives: around home

Te Apiti mud-fest (Waimarama, Kairakau S24O)

Waipukurau. Saturday. One o’clock.

That’s where Carl had to be to meet his family returning from Palmerston North. Why drive when you can ride a bike and camp at the beach overnight? A plan was hatched during the week to enable this and get some bikepacking, not to mention training for Tour Aotearoa for Carl, in. I managed to work in a paper road (a legal right of way that only exists on paper, not as an actual road) I’d wanted to ride for some time into the plan.

Friday after work there was much rushing to get my bike loaded before we rendezvoused at the mouth of the Tutaekuri River. Battling a strong on-shore wind, we met and the drizzle set in. Nearing six o’clock, would we have enough time to ride with loaded bikes the forty kilometres over the hills to Waimarama before the pub kitchen closed? (This is becoming a theme, one I quite like – ensuring one rides efficiently and fast enough to get one’s dinner. Strong motivation.)

Familiar cycle trails were easy miles as the rain strengthened. We crossed the Red Bridge and things became less familiar – I had been on this road once before, back in July. On a grey, damp evening traffic was light; there was ample opportunity to ride side-by-side and discuss bikepacking, TA details and thankfully, little work. With only three hundred metres of climbing, it was a leisurely Friday evening ride – the rain and the summer heat making it rather muggy. Ascending the last climb, the rain had ceased and it was pleasant riding as we drew closer to that kitchen.

At the crest of that climb, Waimarama Beach and Bare Island stretched in front of us.

Whizzing off the hill and along the flats, we made a bee-line for the pub, put our orders in and went to make camp at the local camping ground while the light held, as did the clouds. We returned to demolish our meals in one of those pubs where the patrons propping up the bar have not seen people riding into the local from a distant place, loaded with camping gear – it’s fun and amusing to be accorded astonishment and respect for such a small ride. Marveling at how achievable and great Friday-after-work bikepacking escapes are, we began plotting other possible ventures.

Rising after a sound sleep, decamping, and snacking we rolled off into a grey morning at the leisurely hour of seven o’clock. Gradually climbing up Te Apiti Road through farmland was an easy warm-up for the day. After ten kilometres we reached the end of the road and lifted our bikes over the gate onto Te Apiti Station. Checking in with the manager the day before, he’d warned Carl that it was raining and the track would be boggy. We figured we could deal with this.

It definitely wasn’t boggy. The track hardly looked wet. But we quickly found, when we couldn’t even ride up the first short, steep rise, that the innocent looking dirt track was exceptionally tacky. Rolling over it, walking over, the surface much preferred to detach itself from the earth and fasten itself to tyres and shoes. I have never experienced such vasty quantities of such adhesive mud.

For two hours we tried to ride on the grass when possible; most often we couldn’t and so resorted to churning through the tackiness. This mostly consisted of pushing one’s bike until the wheels bound themselves in the frame, then dragging the bike and finally succumbing and stopping to remove vast wads of mud from, well, everything. At one stage in the middle of it all, we rode a few hundred metres and it was incredible! Just when it seemed to be getting better, we struck the worst patch yet – unfortunately this coincided with a steep, slippery ascent from which there was no escape to grass on the side. Getting ridiculous by then, we finally could look down and see a gravel farm track – it was almost over! That two hours got us a massive five and a half kilometres.

You know it’s bad when your 2.4″ tyres turn into 4″ fat tyres; and you know it has gotten worse when the mud has bridged over the rims.

My new shoes, bought to be more comfortable for hike-a-bike, were getting a bit of walking in – but not looking so new all of a sudden. On the bright side, I did grow a couple of inches in stature.

Usually I have plenty of clearance between tyre and fork – not this day.

Nope, that wheel is not turning.

The countryside was ruggedly beautiful, but mostly I remember the remarkable mud. Bliss to be on a gravel road, our speed increased as we crested a couple of smaller hills before rolling down to Kairakau Beach. A small settlement of holiday homes, we tried to find somewhere to clean our bikes and shed a few kilograms of mud. Once again attracting attention for being a little mad, two dear older couples from Napier with long (five or so generations) ties to the area plied us with a large pot of tea and biscuits. And let us use their hose to wash our bikes from brown back to black. Fantastic.

Carl had somewhere to be and I had to get home as I was expecting guests. It turns out that riding out of Kairakau involves a good 250 m climb at a decent seven percent gradient. A different type of work, but preferable to making little progress through the mud. We parted ways at Elsthorpe, I stopped in at a country equestrian meet expecting a food stall of some sort – I was not disappointed. I enjoyed my first ride along the undulating Kahuranaki Road and arrived home in plenty of time after battling the same on-shore wind.

A most excellent little outing, made more memorable by being a lot more challenging than expected. As I’m starting to say more often on little adventures that don’t go quite to plan – good training for something. What something will be remains to be seen.

The 2017 Letter – Just A Little Late

Predictably, the end of the year got busy – organising Christmas surprises is rather more fun and pressing than putting musings of the previous year through the keyboard. After spending most of the year, for various reasons, saying I was not coming home for consecutive Christmases, I got everything lined up and duly arrived in Oamaru for the festive season. Somehow I’d managed to keep the secret, and there was much surprise and many hugs – so much fun, although I don’t imagine I can pull off such a coup again.

Making a surprise visit does make it difficult to plan other activities for the rest of the stay – but it worked out well with lovely time with family, much food and drink and managing to get out bikepacking for a few days over various passes I’d had my eye on for a while – more on that in another post. Biking and traveling at that time of year does give plenty of opportunity to consider the year past and the one to come.

Looking back on 2016’s missive, 2017 did not have such momentous biking or family events – but it was still exceptional and with all sorts of wonderful things going on.

First bikepacking trip was whipping through the Alps2Ocean with Adele in two and a half days – ably supported, and ridden in parts, by Mum and Dad.

Living in Napier continues to be delight me. I enjoyed much time walking, biking and generally exploring the surrounds. With my house within easy walking distance of the city centre and many attractions, there’s never a shortage of places to wander and things to see. I particularly enjoyed my first proper taste of the Art Deco festival – even if it was curtailed a little by unseasonably wet weather.

A big dress-up party for the whole city for days – brilliant fun!

The odd local bikepacking overnighter kept my hand in, as did the occasional sortie on gravel roads out in the hills. There’s still plenty more to explore, many places left to bike. Somehow I ended up competing in the local winter cyclocross series – on my full-suspension mountain bike. It was even muddy. To my surprise, I did enough in the first three races to win the B Grade series (skipping the final race as biking in Rotorua is so much more fun!) – turns out big chunky tyres are useful in such conditions, who knew?

Seven thousand kilometres per year on various bikes seems to be the norm now, achieving that mark for the fourth consecutive year (2016 being bigger with the 3000 km Tour Aotearoa blip); well pleased to be able to spend so much time outside doing one of the things I love most. With the MTB park at work closed for a lot of the year after extensive storm damage, there were many rides up and down Te Mata Peak – always worth it for the ever-changing view. The descents are rather fun too.

If I can see this hill from my house, surely I can see my house from this hill??

I didn’t take a lot of leave from work during the year, preferring to save it for when I really want to take it. But two visits from family were definitely such times. Mum and Dad’s getting-close-to-annual winter visit was the most fun yet – the highlight getting away for a few days to the remote and hilly north-east Manawatu to stay on a big sheep station; the bike ride was pretty cool too. After two years, Adele and James finally visited for early-Christmas (I managed to get through that week without letting slip that I’d see them in less than two weeks) and it was a busy six days of biking, walking, seeing sights, eating, drinking and generally enjoying the company of loved ones.

Beach walks with parents – not so hilly.

I finally made it to Cape Kidnappers. It’s quite a long, flat, hard walk – but the views make up for it on a hot summer’s day.

Continuing to host the occasional cycle tourist through warmshowers, I got inspired early in the year to start hosting AirBnB guests. As well as bringing in a bit of extra money for home maintenance, it’s nice to sometimes have a bit of company in the house – as with the cycle tourists, it’s also great to hear accents from around the globe. Traveling abroad without leaving home in some ways.

I’ve enjoyed slowly learning various home maintenance tasks. AirBnB was very busy early on and helped to fund the major house maintenance and improvements of the year – a large scaffold for me to paint the north wall over two busy weeks and to have the window I’d been thinking about for two years installed. Well pleased with the result, & surprised that I rather enjoyed the painting (I did get to listen to a lot of audiobooks). I just have to wait for winter to see the real effect of the new window.

Yes, it is a house. But it’s in better condition than it was before.

Small steps of self-improvement made for an interesting year. The most unexpected was the difference making my diet a lot healthier had on my bikepacking. I signed up to the Mega Grind keen to do 800 km of bikepacking in an area of the North Island that I’d spent little time – despite being so close to where I grew up, and not far from my first job. It certainly delivered in that respect with fantastic North Island hilly terrain, coastal view and gravel roads.

What I was not expecting was the profound difference losing five or so kilograms of unnecessary mass would do to my biking. Previously, I’d been pleased with my ~180 km/day average on the Tour Aotearoa . Suddenly, with no real difference in preparation, bike or gear carried, I finished the event averaging 250 km/day! What in the how? Carrying less mass, and being able to bike stronger for longer was a revelation that quickly had me pondering what else I may be able to achieve. I’m excited to find out. Also, I’m no longer content with a sixteen day finish on the TA – I may have to go back sooner than previously anticipated.

Just a few days later I was back in Rotorua for a completely different kind of bike event – the Singlespeed World Championships. Really it’s just a big fancy dress party of five hundred people on mountain bikes with only one gear. And beer. What’s not to like? A complete blast with friends old and new.

Which rather leaves this year to consider. Excitingly, there are plenty of new things to learn. With a few visits of family and friends on the cards, I’ll mostly stick around exploring home and the vicinity. There’s plenty more strength to be gained, all in the name of riding slightly further and a little faster to explore more new places; I’d really like to do a different bikepacking event of over a thousand kilometres.

Most definitely excited to find what this year holds, I hope it’s great for you too.

Sibling visit

A proposed Christmas in Napier was enough to finally get Adele and James to visit me. As it transpired, it was an early Christmas without the full complement of Pheasants. The warm dry December that allowed me to paint an exterior wall of my house at every spare moment continued for the six days they were here. It was wonderfully warm (Adele may have melted a bit) which meant we spent much time outside visiting many local attractions – many of which I’d not quite managed to get to previously.

First up, Shine Falls was about an hour drive north – the furtherest afield we’d venture during the whole stay. Situated in the Boundary Stream mainland island, I’d gotten close on previous bikepacking trips, but had never made it to the tallest falls in Hawke’s Bay.

Leaving the car, the open pasture quickly narrowed to walking up a bush clad gorge.

Purported to be an hour’s walk, the bushwalking reminded Adele and I of many such walks we did as a family when younger.

But we are fitter and stronger than we used to be; half an hour later – waterfalls. The mist and downdraft generated cooled us nicely after the warm later afternoon stroll. Pheasants don’t seem to have the “swim at every opportunity” gene, so we left that to James.

The walk down the valley only took twenty minutes so it turned out that the drive each way took longer than the entire walk! But that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for being outdoors, discovering new sights and enjoying the native forest; there may have also been ice cream on the return journey.

Adele was determined that my house should be decorated for Christmas – as I’m not usually home for Christmas, this has never occurred to me. I managed to minimise unnecessary consumption and am quite pleased with the lights adorning my deck, the miniature tree and tinsel down the bannisters. With all the weatherboard painting my barbecue had remained neglected; but with visitors keen to cook amazingly, it made a reappearance.

The following morning, mountain bikes were assembled and loaded for a quick introduction to the local trails.

Since the trees have been cleared from Gateway, the views to work and home have really opened up. The price of that being part of the trail network is now exposed to the sun.

The tides lined up well to walk along the beach to Cape Kidnappers. Cape Kidnappers, which I’d frequently looked over to from the end of my street, marveling at the cliffs rising out of the Pacific. With a quick turnaround from mountain-biking, we rushed out the door, stopped at Clive for pies, parked at Clifton and began the nine kilometre beach walk beneath the cliffs. The day was hot, but there was sufficient breeze that it was bearable as we made good time pounding along the increasingly revealed hard sand.

Leaving Clifton and looking back around the bay towards Napier.

The cliffs did stretch a long way, but I did at least know that before deciding we should walk rather than take the tourist bus through the sheep station.

At Black Reef we saw our first gannet colony.

Followed closely with the best views of the cape we would get, as the route then left the beach to climb above the cape.

Gannets! There were, literally, thousands.

How fascinating they were as they nested, fed young fur-ball chicks, landed, partners cutely preened each other on one’s return, took off, fought and generally made quite a racket. Very much worth the long walk – well, it was a long time to be walking on a flat surface in the sun. I really noticed all the walking over the following days – it turns out just two weeks of using spare time clambering over a scaffold and not walking around the Hill has quite an effect.

Heading back to the beach to return to Clifton, Black Reef is off the point at the end of that beach.

We were pretty spent that evening, so had a restful one waiting for good friends Dan and Jacqui to arrive from New Plymouth. There ensued a Saturday of winery tours, on which I drove everyone around – which was far more enjoyable than it sounds. I did get fed plenty of tasty food and got to do another staple Hawke’s Bay activity that I’d sadly neglected over the last thirty months.

Saturday night was the aforementioned early Christmas celebration which consisted of fantastic food, predictably lame crackers, great friends and receiving the big outdoor bean bag on which I’m currently sitting typing this. Sunday morning was equally slow to start – we went back out to the Mill Block to ride a few more trails in the heat. That necessitated a stop on the way back to town to swim in a river before Jacqui and Dan left for home.

I’d been keen to show off both the views from and bike trails of Te Mata Peak, so that was Monday morning sorted. Shielded from the blazing sun on the lower half of the climb, we did at least have a bit of a breeze to cool us on the more exposed parts. The peak was crawling with cruise ship tourists, many of whom you’d think had never seen mountain bikes before judging by their amusing comments. Even on a poor-weather day I appreciate the varying views – this day we enjoyed picking out the various places we’d visited as we turned and headed down most of the trail options.

Somehow I’d forgotten than Emma and Brent have a pool; really, cooling off in there was not the real reason we visited. Lunch at Chalk and Cheese was topped off by irresistible cheese tasting, which may be almost as good as wine tasting – so much delicious cheese, we may have bought a bit. With the mercury through thirty degrees Celsius, how could I not take my guests to the oldest ice creamery in the country? It was plain to see how they’ve been trading for ninety-odd years – delicious.

Somewhere in here I think there was another Napier Hill walk (still one of my favourite things to do out my front door), but a week later those six days are a bit of a blur of activity. The final day of the visit was spent packing bikes before a final art deco drive and tasty lunch on a patio down at West Quay (a kilogram of mussels, you say? Don’t mind if I do) – nice to do that as I so often ride home from work and see people drinking at Shed 2 and think how lovely it looks.

Just like that it was time for the trip to airport, plans for future trips were made and goodbyes said. It was worth the wait, Hawke’s Bay definitely turned on cracking weather which allowed much activity with dear family.

Mangatutu Three Hot Springs

Deciding it was high-time that Carl put his recently acquired bikepacking set-up to good use, we finally found a weekend free of other commitments and headed for the hills. Choosing a much hotter and head-windy day for the third annual overnighter to Mangatutu Hot Springs, it was great to have some company on this iteration of the trip.

I managed to cobble the requisite gear onto my bike in plenty of time – note extra water portage for the hottest day of the season so far.

Carl didn’t faff for too long after I arrived at his house and soon we were off into the strong northerly wind, conscious of the high-twenties of centigrade to deal with. With tyres, that have actual tread on them, it was noisy and slow going as we climbed up Puketitiri Rd. However, there was little traffic, the weather was pleasantly warm and the whole road fills me with nostalgia. Carl kept a good pace and there were few photos stops – so these two links will have to do.

A brief respite at Patoka School was used to fill water bottles and prepare for the last thirty-odd kilometres of climbing. Up to Patoka the road approaches five to six hundred metres above sea level; after Patoka the road undulates, constantly flirting either side of six hundred metres. At Ball’s Clearing the seal finishes and we enjoyed the change in surface to gravel – if not the steep hills as we rode into the evening.

Passing a collection of pick-ups, we missed the Search & Rescue training exercise and, thoroughly spent, dropped off the last pass to the campground. Almost-matching tents were pitched, dinners cooked & consumed before well deserved soaks in the eponymous hot springs. It was a brilliantly clear night, with the full moon casting long shadows as it rose. Despite the clear night, it was warm; rather worn out from the hills and the headwind, we slept well.

Cattle kept beady eyes on us as we climbed out of the Mohaka River valley.

There were plenty more hills to lay eyes on as we were pushed along by the warm northerly.

Carl shows me again why I really should get around to fitting some aerobars to my bike.

Leaving the Mohaka far behind, we were soon back at Ball’s Clearing and whizzing down the seal back home.

Yet, there were still many small hills to get up. Nearing Taradale it was fun to be caught up by someone on a gravel bike (who’d ridden roads I’d half-hoped we’d have the energy for) and consequently yarn about past & upcoming bikepacking events.

Beer & refreshments awaited us as we returned – pleased with a successful outing where Carl proved a capable bikepacker and excellent riding buddy. Now, to find some more hills and get some more miles under the wheels.